Not too long ago, I started off a review of an RJD2 show at the Belmont by exclaiming that the five turntables on stage were the most I’d ever seen in one place. Welp, after Thursday’s Lords of Wax DJ competition at Emo’s, I’ve got me a new record, and it takes the previous one and smashes it to pieces.
For a show that not only brought together three competitors to compete for the title of best DJ in Austin, namely Abe the Assassin, Sloppy Jackson and DJ Chorizo Funk, but also featured a who’s who of Austin spinners—as well as the inventor of scratch himself, Grand Wizzard Theodore—you knew you were gonna need a lot of equipment. Despite realizing that, it was still a sight to behold when I noticed that the total number of turntables onstage for Lords of Wax was no less than 12. And they used every damn one of them.
Kicking off the show
In a smart move to get the wild energies flowing and give the audience more beat for their buck, Lords of Wax kicked off with sets from DJ Bigface, VJ 4th Wall, DJ Chicken George and Grand Wizzard Theodore, all of whom straight killed it.
Bigface’s electro-influenced, bass-heavy tracks featured some of the night’s best selections, including personal favorite “Turn Up the Pressure” by Milo (which I’ve never heard live, so thanks Bigface!). 4th Wall moved things in another, more eye-popping direction with his skills at mixing both sound and video into a set that truly justified the name Video Jockey. Local favorite and everywhere-man (seriously, dude is everywhere) DJ Chicken George took the stage next, and like the previous two, he took the short amount of time allotted to him and had his way with it hard, including some Run DMC, Public Enemy, and more Beastie Boys (an obvious favorite of the night).
If there was someone who could take that bar and send it into orbit, however, it was the next man to take the tables, the one and only Grand Wizzard Theodore. Theodore was, to put it simply, a maestro. His reputation as the inventor of scratch and one of the godfathers of the entire genre of hip-hop and turntable-based music in general was fully earned and then some, with the dude putting down an incredible set with the original tools of the trade. From scratching like he owned the technique (because he does), fading flawlessly and doubling up two of the same records to drop a break in the beat repeatedly (like they used to do it, son!), Theodore was on top of his game. As I was watching this guy, in whose wake so much was created, I felt like I was watching Doctor J dunking—something solid, historical and that I was hugely lucky to be present for.
I felt like I was watching Doctor J dunking—something solid, historical and that I was hugely lucky to be present for.
Theodore completed his mind-fuck on the audience (and the other DJs, who seemed hugely impressed) when he did his famed blind needle drop, holding a record in front of his face and dropping the thing perfectly on beat with a pack of frantic photographers swarmin’ around him to catch every detail. The set also included a nice little back-and-forth DJing between Theodore and Chicken George, and watching the two playing off of each other was a fun addition to the night. Even were the rest of the show total shit (which it wasn’t), getting to see Grand Wizzard Theodore show us where all this came from was an un-missable bit of live music.
And then the competition was here. The three men who were soon to battle for the reputation and honor of being Austin’s best DJ entered the stage like prize fighters, coming out from behind a closed curtain and with a pack of scantily-clad girls waving “Round 1” signs in front of them.
The competition begins
Round One featured the three using only records they had picked out in short 30-minute sessions at local record stores, which were then locked up until showtime. Abe was first up, and he made it clear off the bat that he was all about energy, and well-known tracks that have it in abundance. Abe was all about heavy metal, funk, electro and ’80s tracks for his energetic set.
Jackson went more obscure with his track choices, even so much as to have one of the MCs ask, “Where did you find this on vinyl?” about one particular choice (Diplo ft. Blackstar “Get Off” Jack Beats remix). DJ Chorizo found a perfect middle ground between the two, busting out a lot of 80’s and 90’s hip-hop along with some funky house and sick Latin music.
Round Two let the DJs use both records from the trip to the store as well as their personal vinyl, creating a nice mix between the unexpected and the type of tracks these DJs are known for. Abe’s set was wild and fun like the first, jumping from heavy-bass rap to DNB to some classic ’90s shit with only seconds given to any one track.
Sloppy Jackson then continued his trend toward the darker, more EDM-type tracks, with some dancehall stuff and down into some dark dub. Chorizo smartly took the energy back up for his set right away, playing off the dark, deep sound of Jackson with some fun ’80s rap and some crowd favorites like Michael Jackson.
The final round
The final round let each DJ do whatever the hell they wanted, and it was the most telling of the night. Abe went prop-crazy for this set, wearing a skull lucha mask and a crown as well as busting out a self-drawn prop book for a “Reading Rainbow Theme” remix. Abe’s last set featured a few digs at the other guys (via samples from films), and it was about as full of different tracks as was possible in the allotted 10 minutes.
Jackson’s set was almost the reverse of that, with very few tracks and sticking almost exclusively to a dark dubsteppy sound. Chorizo’s set was full of those “Oh shit, I love this track” kinda shit, even including a little bit of NOLA call-and-response. Perhaps the best three tracks in a row of the night were Chorizo playing “Che Che Cole” into a track with the “music makes you lose control” sample from Hot Streak to “Groove Is in the Heart.” When the countdown ended for Chorizo, a few people took up a chant of “Cho-ri-zo!” as the guys went off stage to wait for the results.
While the judges were doing their thing, DJ Manny and a DJ Orion/Mother Falcon collab were supposed to go down, but Manny only got to play a couple tracks due to running low on time. The Mother Falcon (an indie band/orchestra) and Orion collaboration then came up, and the vibe of the show changed considerably. A quick caveat: I don’t really listen to music like this anymore, and I don’t claim to represent the opinions of those who do. With that said, I thought this collaboration was an interesting idea that worked at times, but otherwise just sounded like what it was: circa 2005 indie music with a little bit of electronic/hip-hop stuff thrown in.
Orion mostly brought in songs by playing a little bit of a beat, which the band then joined in on, and then he faded it out. He and another DJ scratched a bit here and there, and would sometimes bring beats in again, and those parts were mostly good to pretty damn decent. However, when he’d drop out, the songs would go back to purely indie, and all I could hear were their influences (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire and Of Montreal, I’d say).
The real issue here, though, was that the feeling of the show was brought so much more into a chill, non-party territory with this act that it released most of the crowd’s energy. About half the crowd dissipated when the band started, and by the time they were done and the competition results were announced, there were only maybe 50 people out of 250 left. This isn’t by any means the fault of the band or Orion, as they did what they did well enough (though I wasn’t much of a fan personally), but instead was just what happens when you get a bunch of hip-hop and electronic music fans hyped for a party and then try to get them to chill out.
A winner is announced
Despite the weird mood change and a loss of numbers in the crowd, when the judges, DJs, sign-girls and other Lords of Wax-related folk (about one-sixth of the total people at this point) came onstage for the final announcement, those that were left rallied their energy quickly and went suitably wild when DJ Chorizo Funk was named winner.
Holding his golden record high to cheers of “CHO-RI-ZO! CHO-RI-ZO!” that were now clearly audible and enthusiastic, the man beamed and told us that there was a lot of “cornball shit” out there right now and that we need to keep supporting the real stuff. Say word, DJ Chorizo.
Though Sloppy Jackson and Abe the Assassin both put in interesting sets, and each DJ in the competition had a unique and dynamic voice all their own, I think the Lords of Wax was won by the right DJ. While Abe’s energy, crowd-pleasing selections and DJ tricks were a lot of fun, and Sloppy had by far the most obscure and unique tracks, Chorizo Funk’s near flawless skills and willingness to pull from both popular and less-well-known tracks definitely earned his winning score of 1473 out of 1800 points.
The whole thing was documented as a key part of a TV show pilot showcasing the scene in Austin, meaning there’s a good chance that anyone who missed it will have a chance to check it out in the near future. If the footage does surface, I’d say jump on it, because all in all, Lords of Wax was a killer event with only a few blemishes, and is proof that turntable music is still kickin’ ass in the 512.
Lords of Wax was a killer event with only a few blemishes, and is proof that turntable music is still kickin’ ass in the 512.